Since the federal government has for the most part refused to enforce immigration laws, some states and local communities have taken it upon themselves to try to pass ordinances for their protection. Probably Hazelton, Pa., has been the most widely publicized town to take action. Its mayor and city council have passed ordinances to fine employers who hire illegal immigrants, to fine landlords who rent to them and to adopt English as the town’s official language. So far, the court has ruled against them, but they have vowed to fight on.
I declined last week to sign an “English as the official language” petition. It’s not that I don’t understand the burden being placed on taxpayers to provide public agencies with interpreters or the confusion several languages being spoken creates within a small society as people attempt to address each other in an understandable fashion, but frankly, I’m unclear as to how such an ordinance could be enforced. And furthermore, I take the position that city and community leaders should have foreseen this situation and taken steps to deal with it.
Once immigration brought such large groups of people into communities that it created a threat to its infrastructure, town meetings should have been called to bring employers who hire large numbers of non-English speakers, churches that have sizable memberships in that category, community organizations, school officials and chambers of commerce groups together for the purpose of planning to manage the growth and establishing language and civics classes to assist people in merging into the community.
Until we can get another political system in place that is responsive to the people’s needs and enforces the law, we have no choice except to build stronger communities. Now that we know that we have only our limited resources to count on, we should be encouraged to invest our time and energy in keeping our towns and cities fine-tuned by planning ahead.
If you happen to live in a big city, having fractionalized neighborhoods is not too big a deal. But if you live in a small town where what affects one neighborhood affects the whole town, then the situation is different. Everyone needs to understand the town’s customs and traditions as well as its legal ordinances. In order for the community to function at its best, people need to know that they can count on their fellow townspeople to respect its core values.
The inability of people to read and comprehend the spoken and written word leaves them vulnerable to fraud and other criminal acts. Those who do business with them need to help them understand the importance of good language skills.
For example, churches that are strongly pro-amnesty should set up classes on citizenship. While this probably won’t win many converts to the amnesty argument, seeing people show respect for the country’s laws and customs would certainly reduce the level of tension somewhat among those who want illegals rounded up and sent back home.
And it would seem to me that legal immigrants, who are conversant in languages spoken by those who are non-English speakers, would stress the necessity to learn about the country they aspire to live and work in.
Money, of course, is the root of much of the problem. Some employers are determined to hire workers for low wages and few benefits and American workers demand to be paid a living wage. Bringing down the wage scale is another factor adding fuel to the flame of animosity. That’s another reason why community leaders need to employ all the resources at their disposal to ease the tensions which are rising higher everyday.
To people who have always lived in Third World countries, America appears, I am sure, to be a land of plenty that can
take in everyone who wants to be here. Perception, to the poorly educated, is definitely everything. That the public facilities, infrastructure and all that exists here has been built and maintained by the taxes of workers is not a concept that many illegal immigrants can grasp. They have no idea what it requires to maintain a city. Most of them have probably never heard of things like a sewer treatment plant and certainly don’t know the price of replacing one.
As time moves on, this situation is going to prove extremely problematic with the federal government unwilling to do its job. It’s going to require long-range planning, diplomacy and new ways of dealing with old problems. And it’s going to be a process that needs level-headed thinkers at the helm.
In the meantime, the only public document that I’m interested in signing is one that petitions the government for the redress of my grievances. And I have enough to make a book. We once fought a war to gain that privilege, remember?